Kuroda to make long-awaited return

Kuroda to make long-awaited return

CHICAGO -- After nearly two months on the shelf with a strained oblique muscle, Opening Day starter Hiroki Kuroda returns Monday night as the Dodgers open a nine-game homestand with a series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Dodgers are relatively confident Kuroda is healed from his injury, manager Joe Torre said Sunday, but the club nonetheless flew Clayton Kershaw home before Sunday night's game so he'll be asleep when the team flies home overnight and rested should he be pressed into service in relief of Kuroda.

"I don't think there will be a physical problem," Torre said of Kuroda. "His injury has been tested enough and it wasn't an arm or shoulder and that makes me feel good. The only thing that could get him is pitch count. Having a starter [Kershaw] behind him gives us security in that."

Kershaw originally was scheduled to start on Monday, but will be pushed back to Thursday instead, assuming he is not used much Monday. The Dodgers chose to push Kershaw back to Thursday so Randy Wolf and Chad Billingsley will remain on their regular five-day cycles and start Tuesday and Wednesday nights, respectively.

As for Kuroda, he's made only two Minor League rehab starts, and the most recent wasn't very pretty, as he allowed seven runs in five innings.

But Torre is hopeful he can quickly regain the form he displayed in beating the Giants on Opening Day, when he allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings, only to suffer his injury two days later in a bullpen session.

"Hopefully, he's a guy who can go deeper in games and chip in with what Wolf and [Billingsley] have been doing, consistently getting to the later part of games," said Torre.

Kuroda is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA lifetime against the D-backs.

The Dodgers will need to make a roster move before Monday's game and Torre indicated he's leaning toward boosting the pitching staff to 13 again.

That likely means third catcher A.J. Ellis, called up Friday when Will Ohman was placed on the DL, will be returned to Albuquerque. Another option would be to stay with 12 pitchers and send down Travis Schlichting, promoted Sunday to replace the injured Eric Stults.

Pitching matchup
LAD: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (1-0, 1.59 ERA)
Welcome back, Hiroki Kuroda. He won Opening Day, strained an oblique muscle in a bullpen session two days later and hasn't pitched for the Dodgers since. He's coming off a pretty shaky rehab appearance at Class A, but manager Joe Torre can't wait to get him back into the rotation. The Dodgers are looking for an innings-eater, which he is when he's healthy, and that is all they are hoping for at this point.

ARI: RHP Billy Buckner (1-1, 7.16 ERA)
Buckner nibbled at the strike zone a little too much in his last start and paid the price with a 8-5 loss to the Padres. The right-hander gave up a two-run homer in the first to Adrian Gonzalez on a fastball that caught too much of the plate. On the night, Buckner allowed five runs on seven hits over five-plus innings. In his first start of the year against the A's on May 22, he allowed just one run over 7 1/3 innings. Buckner's best pitch is a 12-to-6 curveball, but he showed against the A's that he could get batters out with his sinker and changeup as he did not have a good feel for the curve in that game.

James Loney had two RBIs Sunday for a team-high 38, tied for sixth in the league. ... ERAs of the four Dodgers pitchers used Sunday -- Eric Milton, 3.14; Ronald Belisario, 2.30; Ramon Troncoso, 1.89; Jonathan Broxton, 1.44. ... The Dodgers wree 5-for-16 with runners in scoring position after going 1-for-16 in the first three games. ... Matt Kemp slugged his sixth home run and stole his 12th base.

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•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

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Up next
• Tuesday: Dodgers (Randy Wolf, 3-1, 2.84) vs. Diamondbacks (Dan Haren, 4-4, 2.54), 7:10 p.m. PT
• Wednesday: Dodgers (Chad Billingsley, 6-3, 2.80) vs. Diamondbacks (Jon Garland, 4-4, 5.75), 7:10 p.m. PT
• Thursday: Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, 3-3, 4.34) vs. Phillies (Cole Hamels, 3-2, 5.21), 7:10 p.m. PT

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.